The other day a friend of mine tagged me in a post he made hoping to stir some discussion and get some feedback. I really respect this person and was more than happy to spend a little time responding. After I shared some thoughts, he then asked me to make them more public. So that’s what this is. I guess I just do what I’m told. Also this felt timely in relation Monday’s holiday in honor of Dr. King. We’ve got a long way to go in these discussions, and I pray that a spirit of love and justice will continue to grow in our communities.
Just some context- my friend is a guy named Aaron Roy who serves as Pastor at Living Hope in Richmond California. He’s good dude and I’ve always learned from his example and friendship. Below is his original post followed by my response a some back and forth. I’ve made a couple corrections for the blog just a heads up:
For those who know me you know I am passionate about ethnic reconciliation and unity. Thats why I address it so much. Please bare with this long post and interact with me on this. There is a great ethnic divide problem whether some want to admit it or not.
Anyway… I want to ask for your help. Not trying to bait anyone or cause controversy. But someday I do want to write a book about The Gospel and Ethnic Reconciliation. So this would be helpful. Here goes…
… Would you please do a short cultural assessment of your life?
Could you ask these questions please…
– Does my life involve people who don’t look like me and come from a different culture?
– Am I being formed and shaped by deep relationships with people who are of a different ethnicity?
– Is my church a place where there isn’t ethnic diversity?
– Have I ever sat under the leadership (pastor, teacher, boss etc.) of someone who is of a different ethnicity?
– Have I/Do I confide in and seek counsel from someone who is of a different ethnicity than I?
– Is my only interaction with different ethnicities on TV or through political news stations?
Again please just help me out here. Please do an honest assessment even if it stings a little. I am trying to be a part of the solution and not the problem. Just to put my cards out there… I believe that a part of the problem is isolation. When we isolate ourselves ethnically/culturally and have no interaction with those who dont look like us, we cannot help but develop a “supremacy” mindset that divides instead of unites. All this to say that if you are isolated from other cultures/ethnicities then you only see the world through a narrow lens and therefore are incapable of appreciating “difference” and celebrating the diversity of God’s creation.
Please do the assessment and tell me what your thoughts are. No judgement just bridge building and discussion. This is what helps us come together. This is for all people not just one people group. I tagged a diverse group of 100 of my FB friends but please know for some reason they wouldn’t let me go over that? So if your not tagged please chime in anyway! Thoughts?
P.S. Many are saying privately which is cool as well.
– Does my life involve people who don’t look like me and come from a different culture? YES, though I’d love more.
– Am I being formed and shaped by deep relationships with people who are of a different ethnicity? YES as well as different faith, political, generational, and gender perspectives.
– Is my church a place where there isn’t ethnic diversity? No, miraculously, God has really formed a lot of diversity in our community, though there is always room to grow. I think our decentralized/community model has helped. This is in spite of my own shortcomings and the fact that I’m a young white male.
– Have I ever set under the leadership (pastor, teacher, boss etc.) of someone who is of a different culture? Yes.
– Have I/Do I confide in and seek counsel from someone who is of a different ethnicity than I? Yes.
– Is my only interaction with different ethnicities on TV or through political news stations? No.
I was sitting with a middle aged African American gay many from our church yesterday and we were talking through much of this. As a white guy, I know that part of my role in modeling the kingdom is owning my privilege and listening/following more than I lead. I was super fortunate to be a part of a BLM clergy cohort last year that was really formative and the only time I’ve ever worn a clerical collar was to stand behind my black pastor friends at a BLM demonstration. Also, I’m a part of the Alameda interfaith council where I get the chance to learn from other faiths. Though I wish I could be closer to you and other pastors locally, I am really grateful for the connections I do have.
I think for a lot of other white pastors/peers it’s uncomfortable to enter into the spaces of pain because it means recognizing our privilege and also recognizing the way the church has so often made things worse and more segregated.
Anyways, would be excited to chat more about this sometime in person. Appreciate your example and heart!
Like I mentioned , for me dismantling my own privilege starts inside, so I think we need to do whatever we can to first acknowledge the need to change and take some self inventory on where we each have our own advantages in life. Then I think we need to spend time learning and listening. I’ve found the books The New Jim Crow, Slavery by Another Name, and Between the World and Me to be really eye opening. From a christian perspective books like The Color of Christ, and Divided by Faith to be important as well.
One of the odd things about evangelicalism is that it often perpetuates the divides between white/black in major ways and its in its own best interest to maintain the status quo rather than get into the actual deep roots of racism within. For instance a popular concept from the church growth movement called the homogeneous unit principle on one hand justified churches to cater to one type of people and grow quickly, but on the other hand made us more divided than before. So in my opinion underneath the success of megachurches is subconscious fear of the other and isolation from racial issues. They also perpetuate things white savior mentality and the model minority fallacy.
Alright you got me going- that wasn’t really what you were asking. But learning and confronting those issues is important gospel work that those of us who come from privilege need to do.
I think once we’ve done the work internally, we can then join in the work externally.
For me that means I speak openly about my privilege when in platforms other white people can hear. I’ve found that to be really important. So I say that up front at Oak Life often. This also happens in other network/groups I’m a part of when I get the chance. As a pastor in our community it also means I need to meet people where they are at and walk with them in the process because different folks are at different places. I try to make public my sentiments about this when I can
Also, our community tries to be as decentralized as possible- so our leadership team is made up of a rotating group of women and men who are technically the boss of the church. This feels weird typing up but it might give you a picture of how we’ve tried to “dismantle” and work through some of this: Our team breakdown is 3 white males, 1 white female, 1 asian male,1 african american male, 2 african american females, 1 latino female. Two of these members are LGBT as well. This is a decent representation of our community in that the biggest demographic is white, but I wouldn’t call us a white church. Up front we try as hard as we can to reflect our diversity in our community as well. When I speak (which is probably 60% of the time) we have a lot of space for conversation and questions, I try my hardest to quote non-white male theologians, when I show pictures for Jesus or folks from the Bible I try to find non-eurocentric pics, and we regularly host gatherings for this conversation to happen in various forums. One ‘mantra’ we’ve started saying a lot about the gopsel and the kind of church we want to be is that ‘Jesus embraced the margins and disrupted the center’. So I often say that if your in the center and a part of our community, we might make you uncomfortable Conversely, if you’ve been marginalized by the church, we confess our sins and we need your forgiveness and to the best of our abilities, you are safe with us.
I could go on and on, but I’ll stop there but to summarize:
– do the heart work
– learn, listen, and study
– engage in the external work
As a pastor:
– deconstruct white supremacy in the church by openly calling it out
-allow the community to be led by a plurality of voices from various perspectives
-walk with people where they are at and trust that God will transform them.
-lead by example by joining in groups, movements, gatherings, etc that are working to heal and reconcile.
-confess my own stuff, seek forgiveness.